Neurologic Reserve refers to the “extra” neurologic capacity we’re all born with. You may have heard the old tale about how humans only use some small percentage of their brain — well, that’s certainly an oversimplification of what’s going on in our nervous system, but there is a morsel of truth to it that’s very important in MS. Those “extra” neurons aren’t just sitting there idly, they’re waiting to be called into action when needed — that’s our Neurologic Reserve.
After an MS relapse, your body quickly gets to work activating this reserve, as nearby neurons go about rerouting electrical signals to avoid the areas where MS lesions have developed. As this reserve is called into action, we typically begin to see the acute or subacute symptoms of a relapse subside.
We should note a few important things about neurologic reserve here.
First, this reserve isn’t a 100 percent guarantee that your nervous system can counter all the effects of MS activity. The severity of the lesions, their locations in your brain and spinal cord, and how much neurologic reserve your brain has at its disposal are all important factors in how well your body can adapt to the effects of MS.
Second, while we all start out with a significant amount of neurologic reserve, it’s steadily decreasing throughout our adult lives. An essentially infinite number of things can contribute to how quickly our reserve decreases, but the single biggest factor is simple aging — over the years, we naturally use it up, leaving less reserve available for our body to use in counteracting the impact from MS.
Third, some very good news — we can strengthen, boost, and protect our own neurologic reserve! You’ve no doubt seen or heard MS Center doctors and educators promoting an overall healthy lifestyle and general wellness, in an effort to maximize lifelong brain health. Well, this is exactly why those things are so important. Staying fit, ensuring good nutrition, avoiding unnecessary health risks, and protecting and caring for your emotional and mental health — all of these things and more will protect your existing neurologic reserve throughout your life.
Please browse MSCenter.org for resources and information on promoting your overall brain health, including many recent issues of InforMS where we’ve tackled lifestyle strategies from exercise to creativity.